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The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization

by Michael Balter

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1451188,215 (3.64)10
Veteran science writer Michael Balter skillfully weaves together many threads in this fascinating book about one of archaeology's most legendary sites-- Çatalhöyük. First excavated forty years ago, the site is justly revered by prehistorians, art historians, and New Age goddess worshippers alike for its spectacular finds dating almost 10,000 years ago. Archaeological maverick Ian Hodder, leader of the recent re-excavation at this Turkish mound, designated Balter as the project's biographer. The result is a skillful telling of many stories about both past and present: of the inhabitants of Neolithic Çatalhöyük and the development of human creativity and ingenuity, as revealed in the recent excavation; of James Mellaart, the original excavator, whose troubles off the mound eventually overshadowed his incisive work at the site; of Hodder and his intense, brilliant crew who marveled and squabbled over the meaning of finds in dusty trenches while attempting to reintepret Mellaart's work; and of the recent history of the theory and methods of archaeology itself. Part story of the human past, part soap opera of modern scholarly life, part textbook on the practice of modern archaeology, this book should appeal to general readers and archaeological students alike.… (more)
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Having finished this book, I'm wondering whether I even should have bothered. For one, it's now coming up on being twenty years old, which means that it's become dated. Two, while the author managed to become the designated "biographer" of the dig site, Balter's recent career as at least being a "boat-rocker" when it comes to making accusations of sexual and administrative misconduct does inevitably breed doubt, even if the man is picking the right fights (I haven't learned enough yet to pass personal judgement). All this being the case, why you're mostly reading this book is for what it says about the intellectual evolution of the discipline of archaeology up to about 2004, and for biographical background on James Mellaart (the man who began excavating the site) and Ian Hodder. Hodder, who reopened work at Catalhoyuk, largely did so as a project that might strengthen the way archaeology is conducted.

Barring a new survey of the site, one might be best advised to seek out Hodder's own lectures on Catalhoyuk (just visit YouTube), as a way of getting some sense of how thinking about Catalhoyuk has changed since Balter published his book. ( )
  Shrike58 | Apr 26, 2023 |
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Veteran science writer Michael Balter skillfully weaves together many threads in this fascinating book about one of archaeology's most legendary sites-- Çatalhöyük. First excavated forty years ago, the site is justly revered by prehistorians, art historians, and New Age goddess worshippers alike for its spectacular finds dating almost 10,000 years ago. Archaeological maverick Ian Hodder, leader of the recent re-excavation at this Turkish mound, designated Balter as the project's biographer. The result is a skillful telling of many stories about both past and present: of the inhabitants of Neolithic Çatalhöyük and the development of human creativity and ingenuity, as revealed in the recent excavation; of James Mellaart, the original excavator, whose troubles off the mound eventually overshadowed his incisive work at the site; of Hodder and his intense, brilliant crew who marveled and squabbled over the meaning of finds in dusty trenches while attempting to reintepret Mellaart's work; and of the recent history of the theory and methods of archaeology itself. Part story of the human past, part soap opera of modern scholarly life, part textbook on the practice of modern archaeology, this book should appeal to general readers and archaeological students alike.

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Discovered in 1958 by James Mellaart, Çatalhöyuek, located on the Konya Plain in Turkey, is an archaeological site of tremendous importance. Today, under the direction of Ian Hodder, excavations continues unabated. This multi-faceted biography tells the story of Çatalhöyuek from a variety of angles. It tells the story of the discovery of the site, of those that directed excavations and the team of diggers and experts working there, as well as their relationships, rivalries and personal aims. However, the book also provides insights into the process of archaeology, discussing what the findings of the Neolithic `Dawn of Civilization'. This behind-the-scenes look at the site and the people drawn to it each season is both engaging and informative, much like the site itself. `A revealing narrative of people and ideas at the working face of archaeology' - Colin Renfrew.
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